By WILL ANDERSON
News & Features Editor
Black Student Union (BSU) Public Relations Executive Chair Tyana Warren appeared on 88.1 FM WYPR at noon on Wednesday and spoke about student activism, race and free speech. Warren was part of a panel with Lisa Grey, assistant director of Student Life for Cultural and Spiritual Diversity at University of Maryland Baltimore County.
Warren spoke about how privilege and discrimination affect the daily lives of black students at Hopkins.
“Part of going to an elite institution, there’s this environment of privilege. With that privilege comes that general notion that everything is fine and dandy and that this is the way that things should be going,” Warren said. “Any type of dissent or uproar is inconvenient, is very disruptive. So in terms of the Black Student Union standing up and letting people know that we are not comfortable, that we are not happy with how things are going thus far, and we’re not happy with our undergraduate experience is very conflicting with a lot of students.”
The panel moved onto the topic of trigger warnings on campus. Warren said that they are born out of real, uncontrollable emotions that students have no motivation to lie about.
“In my experiences I’ve never seen someone desire a trigger warning that is trivial. There are students who are speaking up from sexual assault, from racial incidents,” she said. “It seems like there’s a trend in the media to sensationalize or trivialize trigger warnings to the point where they become spoiled, bratty college kids who just want to be comfortable, and I honestly have never seen anything like that.”
Warren agreed with Grey when the administrator characterized microaggressions as a “thousands tiny paper cuts” that do not hurt individually but can be devastating when they build up over time. Warren cited anonymous comments online as a primary example of microaggressions that affect the black community at Hopkins.
“These aren’t your ignorant, flag-waving people,” she said, referring to the Confederate flag. “These are people who are very educated and so they sound very intelligent when they’re arguing that black people don’t deserve to be here because of affirmative action. They’re arguing that black lives don’t matter.”
Warren said that Yik Yak has been a negative experience for students specifically and detailed a current plan by the BSU to address the problem.
“When someone goes on Yik Yak… those things really do add up. We are actually starting to take up a collection and send those collections to the University administration to let them know that it’s not isolated,” she said. “It’s not just one guy who said something last week. It’s years and years of these types of comments, and they really do add up and affect your performance in college as well.”
Robert Shibley, executive director of FIRE, a free speech advocacy organization, challenged what Warren said about trigger warnings and microaggressions, citing potential violations of free speech on college campuses.
“Trying to create an environment on campuses where people are entirely free from triggers or microaggressions… [the] concern was that this is actually creating a generation of people, teaching them to be less resilient than they should be in a free society,” he said. “We can talk about trigger warnings and microaggressions, but the question is ‘What do we want to do about it?’ Saying ‘America is a melting pot’ is a microaggression, or ‘I believe the most qualified person should get the job’ is a microaggression — these are undoubtedly political statements cast as aggressions.”
Grey agreed with Shibley and said that a majority of college administrators who address race issues are staunch supporters of free speech.
“If we are to be a community that values equal access to learning… then we have to be willing to create a space where everybody is included, where are people are valued, where all people are given a voice and allowed a voice and where all people are visible,” Grey said.
Warren responded to what Grey and Shibley said.
“It’s interesting to hear the adult perspective because it can really be out of touch sometimes. I think what we’re asking here is ‘Was your comment necessary?’,” Warren said. “It’s learning and growing out of certain comments that aren’t necessary. We all stopped saying the rape jokes. We all stopped saying the racist jokes, hopefully… And so when you come from a place of privilege and you come in and say something because you can, we’re asking you to stop and think ‘Was your comment necessary?’”
Shibley then asked Warren who should decide what is necessary to say and what isn’t, citing freedom of expression in the art world and on campus.
“When you’re doing art, you’re intending to trigger people, you’re intending to trigger certain emotions,” he said. “So my worry is ‘Where does that leave those people who aren’t with the campus mainstream?’… That mainstream is different today than it was five years ago.”
Warren spoke about the role of free speech in the classroom setting.
“I think that when we talk about the classroom setting, we’re talking about topics that are supposed to be educational, and the conversation is supposed to be productive,” Warren said. “Usually microaggressions are meant to silence; They’re not meant to be educational; They’re not meant to foster an actual conversation… We’re not talking about actual exchange of dialogue in that situation, we’re talking about someone who’s trying to silence or someone who’s trying to put down or demean someone because of who they are as a person.”
A caller into the show asked Warren who should determine what privilege is, and whether that determination is a microaggression itself.
“We’re talking about calling out someone who has the upper hand here,” Warren said. “I won’t get too much into detail about systematic racism and oppression… but me pointing out the fact that you have the upper hand and you have a place of privilege above me and that I have to work twice as hard to get half of what you have is not a microaggression because it’s not a form of oppression, it’s not me trying to silence you at all.”